The Loving Commandment

Text: John 14:15-21
Date: Easter VI
+ 4/27/06
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

With minds opened by our Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead to understand the Scriptures and everything He has said and commanded, we continue to recall His words on that night when He was betrayed, that Holy Passover Thursday when He washed His disciples feet, predicted His betrayal and denials, and comforted our hearts with His words. He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled” and told us of His going away to the cross and now to the Father to prepare a place for us, and that he would come back to take us to Himself, “that where I am you may be also.”

Don’t miss the significance of that promise. For this is the meaning of the title “Immanuel,” God with us, and of our Lord’s entire mission. He came to this earth, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, to be “God with us,” to draw us to Himself and to His Father, to heal the breach of sin that separated us from God and from each other. He was Immanuel, God with us, all the way up to the cross where only He could go for us. Yet, having endured the shame of the cross where He died as the vicarious atonement, the one sin-offering that takes away the sin of the world, He came back from the grave; God with us again. As He would go to prepare a place for us and to rule the whole universe for the sake of His Church, He promised to return as God with us to take us to be with Him in the new, eternal mansions of the new, eternal creation. Yet even now, after He has ascended and before His promised return He does not leave us alone, but sends His Holy Spirit, with and in Whom He has also promised us, “I am with you always to the close of the age;” Immanuel, God with us, and God for us.

In this time of waiting, this time of “in-betweenity,” between His leaving us visibly and His promised visible return, He helps us to live as His new creation, disciples who carry and live and proclaim the Good News, the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all the world. In that living and proclaiming, we remember these words He spoke to us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

“If you love me.” I doubt that this was one of the big “ifs of life” they were thinking of when they hoisted Snoopy on the Met Life blimp. For this is an “if” of new life in Christ. At first these words sound like a threat, as when your wife says, “If you love me…you’ll take out the trash.” (My wife never says that to me…she just “reminds” me…every Wednesday night!) But that’s really unfair to make it sound like your entire relationship is dependant on one single, simple act. And while these words of Jesus can be heard as threatening Law, they are, at the heart, actually words of Gospel. That is they are words that give what they demand.

For what does Jesus demand? “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What commandments? Jesus did not come only as a new Moses. Nor is He like Santa Claus, making lists, checking them twice, to find out who’s naughty or nice. Yet how many people think of Him that way—that to be a Christian means to follow certain rules of behavior? Even how many preachers slip away from the Gospel and end up delivering rules, “purpose-driven” rules or the rules of the bylaws? Not that there are no rules. But your relationship with God does not depend upon your keeping the rules. Your relationship with God depends solely and alone upon God’s grace.

But what are the rules? What “commandments” does Jesus have in mind? You might think of that time when He went up that mountainside and delivered the Sermon on the Mount—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3). There he sure looked and sounded like a new Moses. But now, in light of everything that has happened (His death and resurrection) we know that He was not there so much issuing new rules for us to follow as He was talking, mainly, about Himself and His mission to the world. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). In that Sermon He revealed the heart of God’s commandments, His heart of love.

Remember when His enemies tried to entrap Jesus in His words, and one of them asked Him which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Do you remember what Jesus said? “You shall love the Lord your God…. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:36-40). This is the heart and summary of the Ten Commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. When we confess our sins in the words, “we have not love you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves,” we are confessing our breaking of both tables of the Law, all of God’s commandments. Indeed, such is our slavery to sin that we cannot live out God’s commands much less fulfill them—which is precisely why we need a Savior, the Savior God sent purely out of His love for the world, His love for you. The Savior came not “to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). His holy life, His saving death, His life-giving resurrection, his triumphant descent into hell (Epistle, 1 Pet. 3:13-22) and now His ascension we celebrate this Thursday, the fortieth day of Easter, and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and your personal Pentecost of Baptism in water and the Word, all of this is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets on your behalf, for you. Now, by faith in Him, you love Him because He first loved you (1 Jn. 4:19). And it is His love in you that frees you from the condemnation of the Law, the rules; frees you to keep His commandments, which are nothing but the commandment of love.

In fact, isn’t that the only time we heard Jesus say He was giving us a commandment? Remember, that same night? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn. 13:34). “If you love me” is as much as saying, “if you believe in me.” “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” These words are not as much a threat as they are a prediction! When you have received God’s love by faith in Christ in the forgiveness of your sins, that same divine gift of love will be reflected in your worship of God and love of neighbor. For true worship is not done to appease God or gain points but to receive more of His grace and to give thanks to Him. And once we know the love and forgiveness of God for ourselves, we wish to convey that same love and forgiveness to others.

Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” To give us “another” helper is to say that we have already been given One, namely, Jesus our Savior. The Holy Spirit is “another” helper because He is an other Person of God the Holy Trinity, yet the three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are one God. This is the way of the Gospel, that God not only brings us back and restores us the way He originally intended things to be, but to be even more than the original design. God sent His Son to be our Helper, and now He gives us another One. He redeems us from sin, death and hell and restores us as children of God, but no longer merely as subjects but as co-rulers with His Son complete with crowns.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Immanuel, Jesus is God with us by means of His Spirit who “dwells with you and will be in you.” An orphan is a person who has lost both parents through death. Usually our heart goes out especially to children. But eventually we all become orphans unless we die before our parents. Not so with the disciples of Jesus. For after His death He rose again from the dead and came to His disciples. And now, after His ascension into heaven, still He comes—He comes to us by His Spirit, His Word, His sacraments, and will come at our last day to receive us to Himself. This faith and love sings at the Holy Communion of His body and blood,

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean. [LSB 631:1]

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” After telling us how He will continue to be Immanuel, God with us, by His Holy Spirit, He concludes with the same thought, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” As St. John would write later, “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 Jn. 5:3-4).

May you rely on the power of God, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard…in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:8-10, 13).